The city hopes survey results will help a future buyer determine building's use.

STAFF FILE PHOTO - The Venetian Theater in downtown Hillsboro has sat empty for more than a year after a sale for the company fell through. Now, city officials are asking residents what they want to see from the space.The City of Hillsboro is making progress in helping determine what the vacant downtown Venetian Theatre might be used for.

Last month, the city hired consultants to conduct an online survey, open to the public and shared via social media, to find out what community members envision for the space, and how much they might utilize it if repurposed.

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, results were released, and while there is not yet a definitive plan for the theatre, nor a proper owner, the feedback may give a future buyer some ideas.

"The Venetian is an important part of Downtown Hillsboro, which is the heart of our community," said city spokesman Patrick Preston. "As a city, we want to help facilitate the Venetian's continued role as a driver of visitors to Downtown. "

The Venetian, 253 E. Main St., has been vacant for more than a year, after it shut its doors in April 2017 for what was supposed to be only a few weeks while ownership changed hands.

But when the sale fell through at the last minute, owner Denzill Sheller wasn't able to reopen.

Now, the bank is in ownership of the theater, Sheller said, and the city of Hillsboro is looking into options for making use of the empty space.

The survey asked how often people attended performances or movies at the Venetian when it was open. More than 60 percent said they went to the theatre between every few months to once a year. Twenty six percent said they never went because they are new to the community, or it was closed, the survey results stated.

STAFF FILE PHOTO - The Venetian was home to the Bag&Baggage theater company for years. The troupe built its own space in downtown after the Venetian announced it would close its doors.Asked how often respondents go out to the movies in general, 81 percent said once a month or once every few months.

Sixty percent of respondents said they go downtown once a month, and 30 percent said every few months.

The survey provided respondents seven potential community uses for the theatre and asked them to choose their top 5, according to survey results. Forty three percent said they would like the theatre to hold live performances like music, theater, dance, comedy, etc. Twenty nine percent said the theatre should show classic and local interest films on the screen. And 12 percent said they would like the theatre to hold special events that would bring the community together like annual holiday shows, TedX, storytelling events and public forums. Other options included live screenings of sporting events, screenings of cultural events, an education resource space or a venue for local performances for schools and other groups.

The survey also asked respondents about potential private uses for the space which would be open to community members. Of the respondents, 72 percent said they would be likely to rent the theatre for local community group fundraisers or special events. Sixty seven percent said they would be likely to rent the theatre for private parties, weddings, religious services, reunions, other celebrations.

There were a total of 844 respondents, according to survey results.

With downtown revitilization a goal of the Hillsboro City Council, Preston said, the Venetian plays a fundamental role in its future.

"The Venetian itself as a property is a special place in our downtown's make up and it's one that has had considerable investment to date from the city and from the private sector," Preston said. "It's one of many properties that the city has taken a role in helping in guiding it as far as its role in downtown, and that's because not only is the Venetian great as an existing property and a building, it has the potential to help other businesses in the area."

Preston added, "People will come downtown for one reason — they will stay for several reasons. And the Venetian is one of those opportunities to bring people downtown, to attract people for a first reason to allow them to then explore other places including restaurants and shops."

This isn't the first time the city has offered assistance in improving or repurposing an existing downtown business, said Karla Antonini, the city's project manager.

Hill Florist & Gifts, Insomnia Coffee Company, Decadent Creations, Collective Kitchen, Piccolo Mondo Toys, Sequoia Gallery, HART Theatre and several others have benefitted from the city's efforts, including its Downtown Storefront Improvement Grant Program which offers a matching grant of up to $40,000.

STAFF FILE PHOTO - The Venetian seated more than 300 people. Survey respondents said they'd like it to retain its longstanding theater feel. "The end goal is to create an active and vibrant downtown," Antonini said. "To have more people living downtown, working downtown, and then taking part in all the events, and the shops and the restaurants, and all the activities that are going on."

While the city doesn't have any plans to purchase the property, Preston said they are collecting information to assist any future buyer.

"At the end of the day, it's a private business. It's a private property," he said. "So ultimately it's for the next owner of the Venetian to take from this survey information what they want.

He added, "We are supportive of any effort to bring more activity to downtown Hillsboro and make it that 18-hour environment. ... We are hopeful that we can help in any way to support that."

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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